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Sparks - Indiscreet CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.23 | 58 ratings

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3 stars This album initiates an odd "wandering" period in the band's life (consisting of this one, Big Beat and Introducing Sparks), in which the band kept making albums that were definitely good but that were also unsatisfying in some way that prompted Russell and Ron to completely change things up after they were finished making them. The main supporting musicians (Ian Hampton on bass, Trevor White on guitar, Norman Diamond on drums) for Indiscreet all had played on Propaganda, but in an effort to shake things up the band brought in Tony Visconti to produce, and while Tony had been responsible for some tremendous production jobs at this point, something about this combination just didn't click. It would be wrong to say that all of the glam-pop elements of Kimono and Propaganda are gone (for instance, "Happy Hunting Grounds" sounds just like a slightly weaker version of "Amateur Hour" or "At Home, At Work, At Play"), but they're much less prominent, and they're replaced with a mix of material that's both weird and strangely bland in aggregate. A list of all of the different genres and approaches taken on this album, in a vacuum, should leave me expecting the album to be a spastic good time, but while I certainly enjoy the album much more than not, I also find it surprisingly dull (largely because of the pacing; more on that later).

It doesn't help that, like its predecessors, it has some ideas that I continue to find more than a bit obnoxious. Holy hell does the Russell-penned "Pineapple" annoy me; it's another excursion into the world of music hall, which had tended to work out well for the band in the past, but the way Russell sings the title as he alternates with lyrics that extol the virtues of the fruit is another one of those Sparks ideas that I wish had stayed unrecorded. "How Are You Getting Home" starts off with 15 seconds that are absolutely on par with the more inspired moments of the last couple of albums, and the song is nice whenever some variation of that initial snippet returns, but I could live without any of the bits based around Russell singing the title like a spazz. "In the Future" taps into the kind of "Jetsons Glam" approach that Roxy Music dabbled with in their first two albums, and I somewhat like the incongruous splicing of Baroque-style organ passages into the song, but the track is just a mess (and its most memorable parts, the falsetto "Future! Future" and "Innnnn theeee future!!" Russell backing vocals, are also its most obnoxious).

Most of the rest of the album is pretty interesting, though, once you can get beyond things like the general lack of punch in the sound (especially in Russell's vocals). The opening "Hospitality on Parade" might well be the weakest of the remaining tracks, but I've decided that that's because it sounds like a Propaganda track ripped from the supporting features that made Propaganda tracks so interesting. If it had stronger production and was a little faster the various ideas would probably sound better to me.

The other eight tracks roughly divide half into "cute novelty genre exercises" and "full-fledged interesting songs," and I like all of the tracks in both groups (unfortunately, all but one of the novelty exercises is on the first half, and all of the full-fledged interesting tracks are on the second half). "Without Using Hands" is a piano-based music hall ditty about people in Paris doing various things (you guessed it) without using their hands, culminating in a hotel manager getting his hands blown off in an explosion. "Get in the Swing" is basically big- band parade music with a simple chorus and hilariously unfocused lyrics (the one that rambles about salmon and ties it back into something romantic is a crackup). "Under the Table with Her" is chamber music (mostly based around strings but with a recorder in one spot) that appears to be about eating dinner with the dog because people treat the dog well, and "Looks, Looks, Looks" is dead-on swing-era jazz about how, when it comes to attracting women, your other features don't matter if you don't have good looks. I admit that none of these would come immediately to mind if I was asked to put together a list of my favorite 25 or so Sparks tracks (though "Looks, Looks, Looks" might come close), but they're enjoyable when on.

Among the "full-fledged" songs (I don't mean to imply that the others aren't fully formed, but I don't know how to better describe these songs in relation to the genre exercises), the best (not just of this set but of the whole album as well) and most notorious is definitely "Tits." Lyrically, the song depicts a man drunkenly ranting about his marital problems to a bartender (momentarily accusing Harry of maybe being the one breaking up his home, before feeling sorry for it and apologizing), centered around the fact that his wife is now primarily using her breasts for feeding his son Joe, as opposed to other things. Musically, it's really fascinating, full of changes in mood from lilting to bombastic angst, all centered around the great Russell delivery of the lines "So drink Harry, drink Harry, drink 'til you can't drink no more of anything/No more of anything/Drink Harry, drink 'til you can drink no more." Yup, if there's a major reason to listen to Indiscreet, it's definitely "Tits."

As with "Tits," the other three tracks combine interesting music with fascinating glimpses into Ron Mael's musings on relationships between men, women and society at large. "It Ain't 1918" is fiddle-based music about a happy couple who got married after World War I and decided to keep everything about themselves the same way as it was when they met, upsetting neighbors and friends who think they're weird and that they shouldn't be allowed to be happy in the way they want to be happy. "The Lady is Lingering" is a more "traditional" Sparks number based around piano and guitar, this time filled with astonished musings upon realizing that the girl he's on a date with hasn't yet offered any of the standard excuses for needing to go home, and it's full of danger and tension to match the uncertainty of the situation. And finally, "Miss the Start, Miss the End" starts as a rant against people who arrive late for and leave early from shows, only to acknowledge that they're finding joy in life from something other than the event they're consuming, and it has quite a happy chorus to contrast with the melancholy verses.

This is an album that I want to like more than I do, based on the individual tracks within it, but I've always found this a surprisingly hard album to want to listen to. The fact that so many of the genre exercise tracks (which are fun, but don't really rise beyond the level of "cute") are crammed into the first half (where they are easily the best part of that half), with the meatier material crammed into the second (unfortunately sharing space with "Pineapple" and "In the Future"), makes it so that I've pretty much checked out by the time the best stuff comes around. A significantly reordered version of the album (even without removing the tracks I really dislike), with at least one track between each of the genre exercise tracks (as opposed to lining them up in a row), and at least one track between each of "Tits," "It's Ain't 1918" and "The Lady is Lingering," would probably merit consideration of a higher grade from me. As is, I'm content to listen to individual tracks from this from time to time, but I can't imagine feeling in the mood for 70s Sparks and picking this over Kimono or Propaganda (or, for that matter, Introducing Sparks). Lots of fans tend to love this, though.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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